Friday, April 8, 2016

Dark Blue and Sixty-Two

DSC00423 (1300x1266)I remember, 40 years ago, a family trip to Europe that began with a drive through southwest England.  My father attempted to Y-turn the rental car in a narrow Oxford street and nicked a corner brick out of the venerable University walls.  Forty years have passed without revisiting the scene.  But, as a take-the-day-off trip to celebrate my sixty-second year, a do-over of Oxford seemed like a perfect plan.

For a Cambridge man, Oxford was always portrayed as urban, stuffy, literary and snobbish.  There was never much reason to pay it much attention except at the annual Boat Race (which Cambridge won this year) or counting up Nobel Prizes (92  vs. 51 awards to affiliates). 

We vaguely admit that Professor Charles Xavier graduated from Pembroke College, but think it’s probably a biographical error.

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We had plans for lunch at The Boathouse on the River Cherwell, and an exhibit of fifteenth century Florentine Drawings. at Christ Church Gallery

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The Boathouse was lovely, nestled along the punting docks om the riverbanks, with a nice selection of fish and vegetarian mains. 

The exhibit had the paintings arranged and annotated to tell the story of Filippino Lippi and his contemporaries well, and the staff helped in seeing some of the hidden details (the pseudo 3-D effect in Viviano Codazzi’s An Architectural Fantasy was particularly good).

DSC00405 (1300x867)Outside, we spent a couple of hours wandering around the colleges and browsing a literary fair.  Apparently, Cambridge Men cannot enter any Oxford College unless their home college is ‘Twinned’ (My Wolfson is paired with St. Antony’s, fittingly specializing in international studies).

There isn’t the parklike feel of the Cambridge Backs, nor the contemplative quiet of our Scholar’s Gardens.  But there is a scholarly weight to the place, Latin lettered over the entryways and brooding stone portraits arrayed along the fences.

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I liked the views across the commons and the tree-lined alleyways: it would be nice to come back to wander the bookshops and sculpture gardens another time.

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DSC00438 (866x1300)We capped the day at the French Horn restaurant in Sonning, a one-Michelin star set along the riverbanks near one of George Clooney’s homes.  The staff outnumbers diners about four-to-one, so every course has a bit of theater to it, and the owner stops by periodically to make sure that everything is being done right.

DSC00420 (909x1300)It’s a nice way to spend number 62: never what I might have expected at 22 when last in Oxford.  At least I can say that I have aged better than the Salvator Rosa’s painting of a comparably aged hermit.

Here’s my birthday photo, taken between two vintage cars minted in the same year as me at the F1 Museum, Stavelot.

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The cars to either side are an Austin-Healey 100/4 and a Triumph TR2.  And I’m particularly pleased that all three of us are appropriately wearing Cambridge light blue colours.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Once around and back

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‘bringing it around today, closing the circle from Dover through the Netherlands, back via Hull and Derby.  It’s been a good trip, both business and leisure, but a lot of miles to cover in ten days.

The line across the North Sea is an ‘at sea’ segment aboard the Pride of Hull, one of two P&L overnight ferries running the eight-hour journey between Rotterdam and England.  ‘not a cheap way to cross, but one of the most comfortable.

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‘more cruise ship than car ferry, the ship offers cover bands, a pizza bar, a piano lounge and casino.  Movies are shown until the wee hours in two theaters (£6 each), a surprisingly good brasserie dinner and buffet breakfast round out meals.  The bedding is a bit thin, but the crossing was smooth, and we arrived in Hull (2017 City of Culture) in thick fog at sunrise.

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A couple of hours to clear customs then we’re off through the rolling Yorkshire countryside, destination Derby.  Set along the River Derwent, it grew from origins in a Roman market town and is today a rail hub and center for transport and engine manufacturing.

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Our overnight was in the self-styled ‘Oldest Marriott In The World’ outside of town, the site of a 2005 climate summit attended by George Bush.  The hotel is s comfortable pile of weathered stone and stately passages set among well-tended golf greens and geometric box gardens.

We were in town to set up our product packaging and sterilization services, which will be done locally. Our company produces coated product at Colworth, simple dip processing inside of a clean tent that was installed and DSCF4205validated a few weeks ago. Finished goods are sent on north to Derby, and we needed process, pricing, and compliance audits of the local service provider to finalize the arrangements.

It’s really an impressive setup: tens of millions of individual products of all sorts pass through the facility each year, and each has it’s own materials, processes, labels, and standards that all must be met on-site.  Keeping things sorted and flowing is a huge logistical job, and there are impressive tracking and scheduling systems in place that make it all come together.

It shows how a business can grow – ‘good for us to keep a goal of hitting these volumes and standards as well.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Europoort, twilight

DSC00184The Port of Rotterdam is the largest in Europe, over 40 km long with nearly 150,000 vessels passing through each year.  Among those are the England-bound ferries that leave Europoort on the southern side of the main river channels.  There isn’t much out there, lots of gas refineries and storage tanks, windfarms, rail and coal yards.

DSC00162I was almost late arriving, having misunderstood that Hoek van Holland was actually on the north side of the port.  After a full day at Keukenhof Gardens and with an overnight ferry ride ahead, I thought that avondeten and a bierje would be nice ahead of boarding. 

But it was 90 minutes until boarding as the bittergarnituur arrived, washed down with a watery Jupiter.

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Then, the 50 km drive around the haven to the ferry docks.  Fortunately, traffic was light on a Sunday evening; I tucked the car into the hold with 15 minutes to spare.

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The sundeck gave the best views of preparations for sailing as the sun set behind the refineries to the west.  DSC00202As closely as the Dutch watch the river’s flow in rainy seasons, the British study the seamanship of the dockmen and deck crew.  I think it’s in the national character: there are always folks having a beer at the rai, discussing wind and tide, pointing out the best way to edge the stern away, and shaking their heads over the use of thrusters. 

The Pride of Hull towers over ten stories above the water, its 104 ft beam and 705 ft length half-filling a standard Manhattan city block (264 x 900 ft). For me, it’  still amazing how delicately the crew handles such a huge, ungainly craft.

DSC00214At sunset, 8:30 pm, we turned into the long-square channel leading to the North Sea.  It was windy and cold, but really incredible views of the Port: I lingered on deck to work on my landscape photos (maybe someday to get back to my charcoal renderings).

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Sunday, April 3, 2016

Spring colours at Keukenhof

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The Keukenhof Gardens, near Lisse and 15 minutes drive from Schiphol Airport, are a spring tradition among the Dutch and tourists visiting the Netherlands. Open only two months a year, mid-March to May, the park has been operating since 1949 when it was set up to showcase hybrid varieties and boost Dutch exports.  It’s now a self-contained destination that features many types of outdoor gardens, Flower arrangements in the Pavilions, and commercial areas for local growers.

The cold weather has delayed the arrival of the blooms this year: I’d say that we were about two weeks ahead of prime colour.  So the fields didn’t have the ‘brushstrokes of paint’ appearance, and the ‘River of Tulips’ hadn’t filled yet.

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Still the Gardens were filled with other flowers, mainly daffodil and hyacinth, lots I don’t recognize slowly getting better, though).  They set off nicely along the lakes and formal garden areas, and glowed in the afternoon sunshine.

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The pavilions held more mature displays, with an amazing variety of blooms, colours, and arrangements.

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The Park had more ‘stage’ areas than I remember, scenes that were set up for group photos and selfies.  ‘no reason not to take advantage, though, even after so many years among the Dutch.

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Following note: I left with a gift of a ‘black tulip’ plant from my w.wezen, which I watered and nurtured back to Poole where it has bloomed into something quite lovely.

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As always, much more on my Flickr page